Monday, April 30, 2012

Now for Something Completely Different


Hey guys – it’s springtime. Fresh is in the air. So I decided to put some fresh into my writing life as well. By doing something pretty much completely different from my established regimen – and writing simply for the joy of it.

I’ve been wanting to try this for a while. Over the winter months I nudged myself in the joy direction with writing prompts. Good move. Good motivation. But it didn’t last.

On my own I could not keep the you should voices from breaking through.

You should focus on the umpteenth revision of the memoir for your agent. You should spend your time on character research for the suspense novel you know you ought to write.

It was obvious that I needed a structure for my joy initiative or I would not initiate. My puritan ethic is apparently too powerful to allow much solo pleasure seeking.

So I signed up for a writing class with a teacher who is more about soul satisfaction than submissions. Her name is June Gould and she is exactly what I needed.

She gives assignments and I do them. What total fun. I have even – dare I admit it? – penned some poetry and loved every word of doing so.

She leads me places I might/would not otherwise go. She reads work by writers I might/would not otherwise encounter. She sends me off from that inspiring place toward my own tangents.

It is all very free – and very much unlike the writing goals I set myself in stone and guilt. Usually I am all about the goal and aiming for it like a buzz saw.

But now – in spring at new beginnings time – I have lifted my saw blade for a moment from the straight line path. I marvel at the life my words take on when left to seek a level on their own.

I highly recommend it – this respite from regimen for several hours each week in rebirth season. And perhaps a summer sojourn and autumn option also.

Who knows what windswept flights of freedom wintertime might bring?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Wrong Idea About Ideas


The major misconception about story ideas has to do with what they can and cannot accomplish. Let me illustrate with a cocktail party scenario that goes something like this.

Author stands at edge of crowd to maximize observation potential. Since this is a savvy author, her glass contains sparkling water, diet cola or plain tonic with lime keeping the head clear in case anyone even remotely connected with publishing should appear and require sober impressing.

Fellow partier sidles over but is unfortunately anything but a publishing professional. Partier discovers that Author is in fact an author and suggests some variation on the following.

“I’ve got a terrific idea for a novel. Bestseller for sure. How’s about I tell you my idea – you write the story – then we split the take fifty-fifty?”

More than one misconception is in play here. First of all this non-writer underestimates the writing process. Famous sportswriter Red Smith once famously said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.”

The party guy with the great story idea knows nothing about the bloodletting aspect of the writer’s journey. Worse yet – he does not understand that an idea is not a story.

An idea is only a kernel. That kernel may possess the potential to grow into the next Nora King Mary Higgins Grisham opus or it may not. Either way tons of nurture, strain, frustration, doubt and even bloodletting must be applied between planting and harvest.

A clever idea may be a jumping off place but without the sweat equity required the storyteller is in for a hard fall.

Not only non-writers are susceptible here. I have experienced myself the exhilaration of what I can only describe as a Technicolor idea strike. A story concept or maybe just a scene appears unexpectedly. Lightning in the mind reveals something entirely new and previously unimagined.

“This is it,” I cry out in creative ecstasy preferably where no one is listening. “This is the story I have to write.”

The problem is that I don’t really have a story. I only have an idea and an idea is only a beginning. A story – particularly in the commercial publishing arena – requires a plot with a beginning, middle and end.

At best my flash of inspiration will get me through the opening scene – maybe the first chapter. Without a lot more work the story tumbles downhill from there….

Any editor worth her blue pencil will see straight through the Technicolor bit to the lackluster follow-up. Even if she is impressed by the story start she’ll know there is no second act.

[Excerpted from my book No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript That Sells available at www.aliceorrseminars.net.]

Monday, April 16, 2012

Women Writers ReNEW


For me it was reentry into a beloved sisterhood I had almost given up as lost. There we were – hugging and kissing cheeks and telling each other how wonderful we look. Women do all of that when we are overjoyed to see one another.

We were not just a love fest however. We were also a convocation of women who write. A convocation that might easily have fallen apart – and nearly did – before this joyful moment could happen.

Instead we were together again at a gathering aptly titled ReNEW the Magic organized by Cynthia Fritts Stillwell the new executive director of the International Women’s Writing Guild along with her staff and Board of Directors.

The setting for this happy reunion and fresh start could hardly have been lovelier – the gracious Gilded Age mansion that houses the National Arts Club in Manhattan facing onto Gramercy Park where cherry blossoms bloomed and tulips waved in spring sunlight.

Please pardon my gush. I have been a member of IWWG – the Guild as many of us call it – since 1978 when I attended my first Guild summer conference at Skidmore College which also happened to be the first writers’ gathering I had ever attended anywhere.

Right there in public – among strangers no less – I revealed with much trepidation my deep desire to write. I even admitted my fear that I lacked sufficient imagination to fulfill this desire. I was embraced and encouraged in return and that encouragement made all the difference.

Everything that has happened to me since professionally was set in motion that sultry summer as sisters I had not known I needed set my feet on the path I was meant to pursue.

My travels in the years from then to now have taken many turnings and my Guild sisters have been with me through every one – as I have been with them. We are a community and we clasp each other close even as we rush or stumble toward our private goals.

Recently the Guild danced along a precipice as can happen periodically with organizations. Strong hands and stubborn hearts prevented it – and us – from tumbling over. This past weekend across from sunny Gramercy Park a gathering of women who write reaped the benefits of that struggle.

I am profoundly grateful to have been among them. A precious piece of community was ReNEWed and my own writer’s soul was refreshed.

I invite you to join me and my IWWG sisters to be similarly renewed refreshed embraced and encouraged as we step together into a newly Guilded Age. Find out more at www.iwwg.org. You will glad you did.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Course Correction Called For



One of my sayings I’m always saying is this – Persist Till You Prevail.

I have been working on a memoir for what feels like longer than it took the story itself to happen. The duration of this project has nothing to do with inadequate work ethic or lack of belief in my subject matter.

The duration of this project is all about course corrections.

Originally I was writing the story of my cancer experience and the many generous people who carried me – sometimes literally – from the dark center of my illness to a bright place on the other side.

The first two course corrections had to do with the title. I barely remember the early options – mostly because they were hardly memorable. Until I finally hit the mark. Lifted to the Light: A Story of Struggle and Kindness. That not only sounded right. It felt right too.

Less comfortable was the correction that came after an editor in the know from a publisher in the mainstream offered her altered course suggestion. Too many cancer books out there, she said. She liked the voice and the storytelling and wanted to see more of those – but different.

Which shifted my course to writing a lifelong tale of being lifted by caring souls again and again. Unfortunately that was not really the story I had to tell. So – though I’ve had considerable experience with writing to spec – this particular correction led pretty much nowhere.

Back I went to the original story – what I hoped was an inspiring account of struggling through my toughest life challenge so far. With its own direction corrected this time toward the changes wrought upon the character named “I” at the center of the scenario.

BUT – it was still a cancer story and mainstream publishing was still not in the market for those. Even though my agent pronounced the writing “exquisite” and set my writer’s heart pitter-pattering all the way to the next course change.

Digital Publishing! It turns out that this had been my preferred course from the start – especially if mine is in fact a niche story. E-pub has a way of aiming at niche targets and finding them.

The point being that all of this flexibility and course correcting could have turned me into a pretzel – and occasionally did. But more important it twisted my work in a direction that just might work for my work and for me.

I am now told that my next course must be a crash course in internet marketing. So here I go into pretzel mode again – Persisting Till I Prevail.

Monday, April 2, 2012

When World Life & Writing Life Collide


Our house went on the market today. Not the one we live in now. That would be too close at hand manageable. The house on sale is clear across the continent. Out of my sight. Beyond my reach. Way past my control.

This is crazy making to the max for me. There is no way I can escape being distracted – also to the max. Yet I am a writer with expectations to fulfill. What am I to do?

The most obvious choice would be to blow the writing off hard enough to push it as far away as my property with the For Sale sign in the yard.

“Life has intruded,” I could exclaim. “Life is bulldozing me under mounds of anxiety at the moment.”

Everyone would understand and empathize with that – especially my writing colleagues. But abandonment would not be the right choice for me – not even the choice that would make me less anxious at this or any anxious time. There are other alternatives for my writerly soul.

I could remind myself that struggle is always a source of great writing material. Accordingly I would write down everything I am feeling as my circumstances play mash-up with my mind and metabolism and I struggle to prevail.

I would not journal the experience – not enough story juice that way. I would dramatize the scene in all its vividness and every sensual detail.

The scent of the air wafting through the window as I hyperventilate. The color I see through my eyelids as I squeeze them shut. The sound of the world as it has the nerve to spin obliviously on. And always the taste of fear – for once not described as metallic.

For dialog I would record the conversations with myself – with my demons – with my wishes – with my higher power.

Today I chose a less colorful alternative. I worked on something that required little original thinking or the stamina originality demands. Most of the original thinking had already been done. I revised something in need of revision.

Each avenue leads in the same direction. Through the predicament – into the writing – out the other side with something accomplished along the way. World and writing collide and fuse and release energy in the form of productivity.

Now if somebody would only buy my house.